Category - Guyana

Essequibo Region (Guyana) Travel Guide

Essequibo Region Guyana Travel Guide: Father and daughter swimming at Lake Capoey

Essequibo Region (Guyana) Travel Guide

Date of Visit: August 2017

Introduction

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The Essequibo region in western Guyana is defined by the mighty Essequibo River – the largest river in Guyana and the largest river between the Orinoco (Venezuela) and Amazon (Brazil). The source of the river lies in the Acarai mountains near the Brazil-Guyana border and for most of it’s 1,014 kilometres (630 mi) northerly meander it passes through uninhabited rainforests and savanna, finally emptying into the Atlantic Ocean, downstream from the town of Parika. The river is home to many islands including Leguan and Wakenaam, both of which are located in the 20 km (12 mi) wide mouth of the river.

There are few towns along the river, with Bartica and Parika being the biggest and almost no infrastructure, except for speedboats which connect remote Amerindian (indigenous) communities.

Unless specified, all prices in this blog are expressed in Guyanese dollars (GYD), which converts at USD$1 = GYD$210.

Territorial Dispute

Map showing disputed Essequibo territory.

Map showing disputed territory. Source: https://www.peacepalacelibrary.nl/2016/01/essequibo-the-territorial-dispute-between-venezuela-and-guyana/

The Essequibo region (comprising 60% of Guyana’s territory), has made international news headlines recently due to an ongoing territorial dispute with neighbouring Venezuela. The dispute, which has no legal grounds, is being fueled by Venezuela’s embattled President – Nicholas Maduro – and is (rightly) viewed as a distraction from the many issues he is facing at home. You can read more about the dispute here.

Getting There

Stabroek Market in Georgetown.

Stabroek Market in Georgetown.

International access to Guyana is via the capital city of Georgetown, where you’ll find travel agencies who can book you on organised day-trips or overnight trips throughout the Essequibo region. Tours in Guyana are not cheap so if you’re on a budget, you might prefer to make your own travel arrangements, which is easy to do.

Access to the Essequibo is via the port town of Parika, which lies on the eastern bank of the river, upstream from the Atlantic ocean. Parika is 42 km (one hour) west of Georgetown, at the end of a highway (currently being upgraded), which crosses the 2 km long floating Demerara harbour bridge. Frequent mini buses – often driven by kamikaze drivers – connect Georgetown (Stabroek market) to Parika at a cost of $500.

Getting Around

Essequibo Region Guyana Travel Guide: Speedboats in Parika port.

Speedboats in Parika port.

From Parika, small speedboats depart (whenever full) to all points along the river. Early morning is the best time to travel, with no boats allowed to commence travel after 6 pm due to a lack of navigational devices on the boats or buoys on the river – it’s dark out there after sunset!

Current one-way fares (GYD$) are:

  • Parika – Bartica = $2,500
  • Parika – Wakenaam Island = $1,000 
  • Parika – Leguan Island = $1,000
  • Parika – Supernaam (for Anna Regina and Charity) = $1,300

Places of Interest

Parika

A family at Parika port waiting for their boat.

A family at Parika port waiting for their boat.

A chaotic, crowded, polluted, noisy, smelly riverside port town – Parika serves as a transport and freight hub for the Essequibo region. The best thing you can do in Parika is get on the first boat out of town. If you are stuck in town, there are restaurants and food stores around the wharf and a Scotia Bank (with ATM’s), which is handy since there are few banks throughout the region.

Bartica

Girls walking along the bank of the Essequibo river in Bartica.

Girls walking along the bank of the Essequibo river in Bartica.

My first trip on the Essequibo took me 58 km upstream from Parika to the town of Bartica (pop. 15,000), which is located at the confluence of the Essequibo and Mazaruni rivers. The journey (in a fast speedboat) took one hour, with the boat dropping us at the stelling (wharf) which is located directly downtown.

A red-earth beach on the Essequibo river in Bartica.

A red-earth beach on the Essequibo river in Bartica.

The name ‘Bartica‘ is derived from an Amerindian word meaning ‘red earth’, which covers the entire region and provides red sand for the local river beaches.

Locals in Bartica.

Locals in Bartica escape the stifling mid-day heat by taking shelter in covered stands along the banks of the river.

One thing I noticed while walking around town were the large number of gold dealers and mining services shops. Bartica is the first stop for miners returning from the gold fields (with pockets full of treasure) and the last stop for those heading to the mines (last minute deal on explosives anyone?).

Fresh-water Pacu fish on sale at Bartica market.

Fresh-water Pacu fish on sale at Bartica market.

Apart from mining-related businesses, there is a colourful produce market housed in a building on the river, where local fisherman sell their fresh catch of the day – including the Pacu fish, which is a herbivorous freshwater fish, related to the Piranha.

I got to sample Pacu later in the day when I had lunch at a Brazilian restaurant. When it comes time to eat  I would recommend eating at one of the Brazilian restaurants on 2nd avenue. The restaurants cater to the small army of itinerant Brazilian gold miners who work in the region and serve up traditional Brazilian cuisine – including Pacu fish, rice and beans, spaghetti and the ubiquitous farfola (toasted cassava flour seasoning, which Brazilians sprinkle onto every meal) – with typical Brazilian hospitality.

Typical road in the interior - outside Bartica.

Typical road in the interior – outside Bartica.

Located 10 km inland from Bartica are the BK falls. There is no public transport to these remote falls but taxis from Bartica will drive you out (on a very rough road) and wait while you swim then return you to town for about $8,000. Like all other water in the region, the water in the falls is the colour of black tea. Unfortunately ongoing quarrying operations from BK International have scared the environment around the falls.

 BK falls, Bartica.

A swim in the BK falls provides relief from the sweltering heat of the interior.

Wakenaam Island

Travelling around Wakenaam island.

Travelling around Wakenaam island.

My next destination was sleepy Wakenaam (pop. 10,000), a 45 kmisland, located in the mouth of the Essequibo river. The island was occupied by dutch settlers in the 18th century who named it ‘Wakenaam’ meaning ‘waiting for a name‘.

Boat to Wakenaam Island.

Boat to Wakenaam Island.

Included in the price of the boat ticket from Parika is a connecting mini bus shuttle which transfers passengers from the dock on the east coast to the main settlement (Sans Souci) on the west coast.

Sleepy Wackenaam receives very few tourists and offers very few services – no banks, no restaurants, one government-run Rest House, a post office, a wharf and a few general stores. The economy of the island is based on agriculture, with rice farming being the main occupation and everywhere I traveled on the island I saw the most beautiful, emerald coloured rice paddies.

Rice farming on Wakenaam Island.

Rice farming is the main occupation on Wakenaam Island.

Farmers also grow coconuts, plantain and various other vegetables and fruits. While walking along one quiet country lane (they’re all quiet on Wakenaam), I passed two young boys who were retrieving coconuts from a coconut palm. I must have looked hot and thirsty as they offered me a fresh coconut, the water of which was incredibly refreshing in the midday heat.

Apart from a couple of mini buses, there is no public transport on the island – so once I arrived in Sans Souci, I arranged a drive around the island (a journey of 60 minutes) with a taxi driver, for which I paid $3,000.

Taxi on Wakenaam Island.

The friendly family, with whom I shared my taxi.

The first stop on our ‘island tour’ was to collect a family who the driver had previously agreed to drive to the corner store. They were very surprised to see a tourist sitting in the front seat of their taxi – a stranger who would intrigue and amuse them all the way to the shop. After dropping off the family, we continued on a circuitous route, along very rough roads, around the island, passing miles of rice paddies, each one lined with water-filled trenches, which are home to Caiman.

Traveling alongside the seawall of Wakenaam Island.

Traveling alongside the seawall of Wakenaam Island.

If you love bird-watching then Wakenaam island is heaven (actually – all of Guyana is a bird-watchers paradise). I did a 6 km walk out of town and saw many feathered creatures in the fields.

Savannah Hawk.

Savannah Hawk.

 

Yellow-headed Blackbird.

Yellow-headed Blackbird.

 

Great-tailed Grackle.

Great-tailed Grackle.

 

Ruddy Ground Dove.

Ruddy Ground Dove.

 

Pied Water-Tyrant.

Pied Water-Tyrant.

 

Black-crowned Night Heron.

Black-crowned Night Heron.

 

Wattled Jacana.

Wattled Jacana.

Apart from birds, there are lots of colourful butterflies on the island, including the Monarch.

Monarch Butterfly.

Monarch Butterfly.

 

Isabella's Longwing.

Isabella’s Longwing.

Leguan Island

River beach on Leguan island.

River beach on Leguan island.

My next destination was Leguan Island, which sits in the mouth of the Essequibo alongside neighbouring Wakenaam Island. The stelling (wharf) on Leguan lies across the Essequibo from Parika, with the speedboat ride lasting 5 minutes. The wharf is conveniently located at the main settlement, where there are a few small shops, a bar and a few snackettes. With a population of just 4,000 (and declining) – Leguan is even sleepier than Wakenaam and – at 19 km2 – it’s less than half the size of its neighbour.

There are no restaurants, hotels, banks or other services on the island for tourists – however there is a 52-feet statue of Lord Hanuman (the largest in Guyana) built at a cost of USD$5 million.

Lord Hanuman, Leguan Island.

The 52-feet statue of Lord Hanuman – the largest in Guyana.

Like Wakenaam, there is no public transport on Leguan so I negotiated with a local taxi driver to drive me around the island. There are three main paved roads (better condition than Wakenaam), two running along the north and south coasts and a road that bisects the island connecting the two coastal roads, forming the shape of a giant ‘H‘. During the drive I saw similar landscapes to those on Wakenaam – lots of rice paddies and farms.

Highlights of the tour included visiting a nice river beach at the north-eastern end of the island (photo above), photographing a giant Hanuman statue at a Hindu temple and peering through the shuttered windows of historic St. Peter’s Anglican church (built in 1827), which is in a state of complete disrepair.

Exterior of St Peter’s Anglican Church, Leguan Island.

Exterior of St Peter’s Anglican Church.

 

Interior of St. Peter's Anglican Church, Leguan Island.

Interior of St. Peter’s Anglican Church

Despite the agricultural job opportunities, the island’s population has been declining steadily over the last decade (it was previously double today’s figure) as people move elsewhere (including the United States) to seek employment. This exodus has left a lot of abandoned houses in its wake and resulted in plots of land being sold for just USD$4,000.

Abandoned house on Leguan Island.

Abandoned house on Leguan Island.

 

Abandoned house on Leguan Island.

Abandoned house on Leguan Island.

Charity

Young boy at the dock in Charity playing dominoes.

Young boy at the dock in Charity playing dominoes.

Literally, the end of the road in western Guyana, well – the tarmac at least – Charity is the main service centre for this part of the country and can be reached by frequent mini bus ($300) from Anna Regina in less than an hour.

Boat docked in Charity.

Boat docked in Charity.

This bustling town sits on the banks of the Pomeroon river and – like Parika – serves as a transport and logistics hub for remote indigenous (Arawak) communities located along the river and west to Venezuela. If you wish to travel any further west you’ll need to transfer to a speedboat in Charity.

River transport in Charity

River transport in Charity

Like most end-of-the-road towns, Charity has a frontier feel to it, but – with it’s colourful market, riverside cafes and restaurants – it also offers a degree of charm. Due to economic instability in neighbouring Venezuela, Charity has seen a recent influx of citizens from that country (both traders and shoppers), who add to the ‘frontier’ feel and flavour of the town.

Riverside shop in Charity.

Riverside shop in Charity. I really wanted to buy the handmade wooden boat.

If your time is limited and you want to take a short cruise along the river, local boatman can be hired at the wharf for about $10,000 for 45 minutes.

Goods from remote river communities are brought to Charity by speedboat for distribution to city market's.

Goods from remote river communities are brought to Charity by speedboat for distribution to city market’s.

Anna Regina

Swimming in Lake Mainstay.

Young boy swimming in Lake Mainstay.

My last destination was the west bank town of Supernaam, a journey which took me, via speedboat, across the entire 20 km wide mouth of the Essequibo river. From Supernaam, I took a connecting taxi into the regional capital of Anna Regina (45 minutes on a good, fast road). While I found nothing captivating about the regional capital, there are two beautiful ‘black water’ lakes located a short drive inland – Lake Mainstay and Lake Capoey. 

As for accommodation, I spent two nights at the Oasis hotel in nearby Queenstown. It’s enough to say this hotel is anything but an Oasis.

Lake Mainstay

Lake Mainstay.

The tea-coloured water of Lake Mainstay.

Located 10 km inland from Anna Regina (at the end of a long sandy road), Lake Mainstay is a large black-water lake. Black water rivers and lakes are common in Guyana – the result of tannin’s leached from jungle vegetation into the water.

Lake Mainstay

Lake Mainstay.

The lake is home to the Lake Mainstay Resort, which features a selection of rooms, a restaurant and a nice stretch of white-sand beach lined with benab’s (shelters). Day-tripper’s pay $400 to enter the resort, which can be reached in 15 minutes from Anna Regina via a (not-too-frequent) mini bus ($300), which leaves from the marketplace.

Lake Mainstay.

The beach at Lake Mainstay.

Lake Capoey

Father and daughter enjoying a sunset swim on Lake Capoey

Father and daughter enjoying a sunset swim on Lake Capoey

Lake Capoey is a true paradise! This little-known piece of heaven is one of the largest lakes in the Essequibo region and is located a short drive north of Queenstown (a few kilometres east of Anna Regina). The black-water, white-sand beach features benabs, a jetty and not much else – except pure nature. I visited during sunset and saw white egrets feeding in the reeds which surround the shoreline.

Sunset at Lake Capoey.

Sunset at Lake Capoey.

A sunset swim in the lake is a great way to end at hot day in the Essequibo. The water temperature is quite warm and once the sun goes down, the stars come out and the lake (far removed from civilization) becomes the perfect place for star gazing.

A sunset swim in Lake Capoey is a popular activity for the locals.

A sunset swim in Lake Capoey is a popular activity for the locals.

About taste2travel.com

Other blogs from the region – Guyana Travel Guide, Suriname Travel Guide, French Guiana Travel Guide, Feature: Cayenne Carnival, Venezuela Travel Report 

Guyana Travel Guide

Guyana Travel Guide: Kaieteur Falls

Guyana Travel Guide

Date of visit: January 2015 &  October 2015

Introduction

Guyana is the fourth-smallest country in South America (after Uruguay, Suriname and French Guiana). It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the north, Brazil to the south and southwest, Suriname to the east and Venezuela to the west. It’s capital and largest city is Georgetown.

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Originally inhabited by several indigenous groups, Guyana was settled by the Dutch before coming under British control in the late 18th century. It was governed as the plantation economy of British Guiana until independence in 1966.

The legacy of British rule is reflected in the country’s diverse population, which includes Indian, African, Chinese, Portugese, Amerindian, and European groups.

Guyana also has the distinction of being the only South American nation in which English is the official language. The majority of the population, however, speak Guyanese Creole, an English-based creole language with slight Dutch, Arawakan and Caribbean influences.

Guyana is called the ‘Bread Basket’ of the Caribbean. Major crops include rice, sugar, coffee, cocoa, coconuts, edible oils, copra, fruit, vegetables, and tobacco. Livestock include cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, and chickens.

In addition to being part of the Anglophone Caribbean, Guyana is one of the few Caribbean countries that is not an island in the West Indies.

The Caribbean Community (CARICOM), of which Guyana is a member, is headquartered in Georgetown.

Guyana Travel Guide: Fashion Parade in Georgetown

Fashion Parade in Georgetown

Guyana or Guiana

‘Guyana’ is derived from an Amerindian language and means “land of many waters”. The region comprised the large shield landmass north of the Amazon River and east of the Orinoco River.

In colonial times, there were five Guianas, these were (in geographical order along the coast):

  • Spanish Guiana – now the Guayana region of Venezuela
  • British Guiana – now the sovereign nation of Guyana
  • Dutch Guiana – now the sovereign nation of Suriname
  • French Guiana – now a French department known in French as ‘Guyane’
  • Portuguese Guiana – now the Brazilian state of Amapa

When Guyana declared independence, it changed its name from British Guiana to Guyana.

Historical map of the Guianas

Historical map of the Guyanas: Source – Wikipedia

Georgetown

Georgetown is Guyana’s largest city (population: 250,000) and its capital. It is situated on the Atlantic Ocean coast at the mouth of the Demerara River and it was nicknamed ‘Garden City of the Caribbean’.

Through the years, Georgetown has been governed by the Dutch, the French, the Dutch again and finally the English until independence.

Georgetown was named in 1812 in honour of King George III.

The city is located on a flat coastal plain. The elevation of the land is one metre below the high tide level. This low elevation is protected by a retaining wall known as the seawall (originally constructed by the Dutch) to keep the ocean out and an innovative network of canals with kokers to drain the city of excess water.

Most of the sites of interest are conveniently located in the compact city centre and can be seen on foot within a day. The streets of the city are arranged on a grid format so orientation is easy. The best way to explore the city is to meander the tree-lined streets, exploring the beautiful wooden colonial buildings and churches.

Guyana Travel Guide: Christ Church in Georgetown

Christ Church in Georgetown

The centre of the city is dominated by the large Stabroek Market (1792) containing the prominent cast-iron clock tower. Stabroek was the name the Dutch gave to the city the 2nd time they took control. The market is interesting but you should be extra vigilant with your personal belongings here. Likewise in the immediate neighbourhood where the streets are chaotic, crowded, rough and edgy.

Stabroek Market in Georgetown

Stabroek Market in Georgetown

For the best coffee in town (not to mention great food and good wifi), you can not beat Oasis cafe. It’s located downtown on Carmichael street.

 

Kaieteur Falls

If there is one ‘must see’ attraction in Guyana then without a doubt it is the majestic and incredible Kaieteur falls. This is a site that must be seen to be believed and there is no better way of approaching it than from the air.

The falls are not accessible by road so they have largely escaped commercialism and development. On the day I visited there were just 8 other visitors – my fellow passengers on the Air Services flight.

Kaieteur Falls is the world's widest single drop waterfall. The falls plunge 226m in a single drop.

Kaieteur Falls is the world’s widest single drop waterfall with a plunge of 226m

The falls are located in the middle of a huge, remote forest. It is four times higher than Niagara Falls and about twice the height of Victoria Falls. It is a very impressive single drop waterfall.

I visited the falls during the dry season. The falls are even. Ore spectacular in the wet season

I visited the falls during the dry season – they are even more spectacular in the wet season

The 6km trail approaching the falls is home to a variety of birds, and miniscule golden poison frogs that produce a potentially fatal poison. The frogs live inside the leaves of the Giant Tank Bromeliads, which act as natural cisterns.

Giant tank Bromeliads are home to the Golden poison frog.

Giant tank Bromeliads are home to the Golden poison frog.

 

A Golden Poison Frog, a member of the Poison Dart Frog family at Kaieteur Falls.

A Golden Poison Frog, a member of the Poison Dart Frog family at Kaieteur Falls.

The golden poison frog’s skin is densely coated in an alkaloid toxin, one of a number of poisons common to dart frogs. This poison prevents its victim’s nerves from transmitting impulses, leaving the muscles in an inactive state of contraction. This can lead to heart failure or fibrillation. Some native people use this poison to hunt by coating darts with the frog’s poison.

The golden poison dart frog is considered one of the most toxic animals on Earth. A single specimen measuring two inches (five centimeters) has enough venom to kill ten grown men.

The golden poison dart frog is considered one of the most toxic animals on Earth. A single specimen measuring two inches (five centimeters) has enough venom to kill ten grown men.

Getting There

You can reach the falls either by boat along the lower reaches of the Potaro river, or the easy – and most popular way – by one hour flight in a small aircraft from Georgetown.

Flights from Ogle Airport are currently offered by Air Services Limited. Refer to their website for schedule and pricing.

Flights leave Georgetown at 1pm and return at 5pm. Included in the cost is a two-hour guided nature walk conducted by a local Amerindian guide.

There are two ways to purchase your ticket:

Local way: book direct with the airline for $145.

Tourist way: book with your hotel or a downtown travel agent and pay about $190. This includes return airport transfers plus lunch at the airport.

Iwokrama Forest

Covering 3710 square kilometres of central Guyana, the Iwokrama Forest is one of the four last pristine tropical forests in the world.

Access to the forest is either via private vehicle or one of the micro buses running from Georgetown to Lethem.

I stayed at Atta Rainforest Lodge, it’s a short walk from the Iwokrama Canopy Walkway, Guyana’s only canopy walk. The walkway is suspended 30m above the forest floor and provides an excellent viewing platform for birds, primates etc.

All lodge reservations plus transport arrangements must be booked and paid for in advance in Georgetown. I made my arrangements through Wilderness Explorers.

Note: There are no transport options out here unless you hire an (expensive) private 4WD. You could try your luck hitching a ride on the Georgetown – Lethem road.

Parrot Snake at Iwokrama Forest

Parrot Snake at Iwokrama Forest

 

Spider Monkey at Iwokrama Forest

Spider Monkey at Iwokrama Forest

 

The 'highway' connecting Guyana and Brazil passes through the Iwokrama forest

The ‘highway’ connecting Guyana and Brazil passes through the Iwokrama Forest

Lethem

Lethem lies on the Takutu River, which forms the border with Brazil, opposite the Brazilian town of Bonfim. It’s a sleepy transit town. If you get stuck here there are a couple of hotel options.

For more on crossing the border, see the ‘Getting There‘ section below.

Accommodation

Like the other countries in the Guianas, accomodation in Guyana is limited. It’s best to book in advance using an online agent such as booking.com

In Georgetown I have stayed at Herdmanston Lodge, which is a well known favourite and the more centrally located Halito Hotel & Residence (my preference).

Eating Out

Food in Guyana is influenced by the different ethnic groups and is typical of other Anglo Caribbean countries. Curry and Chinese are popular.

 

Visa Requirements

Some nationalities require visas for Guyana – check your visa requirements prior to arrival.

Getting There

By Air

International flights arrive at Timehri International Airport. The airport is located 41 kilometres (25 mi) south of Guyana’s capital, Georgetown.

The following airlines provide international flights to Timehri:

  • Copa Airlines – connection to Panama City and the United States
  • Caribbean Airlines – New York, Miami and Port-of-Spain
  • Insel Air – connections to Aruba and Curacao
  • Surinam Airways – connections to Miami and Paramaribo
  • Fly Jamaica Airways – connections to Kingston, New York and Toronto
  • Fly All Ways – Charter: Antigua, Barbados, Boa Vista, Paramaribo, Port of Spain, St. Maarten

Ogle International Airport is primarily used for domestic flights and is located on the Atlantic Ocean coast 10km from Georgetown. Flights to Kaieteur Falls depart from this airport.

The following airlines provide international flights to Ogle:

  • LIAT – connection to Port of Spain and Barbados

From either airport you can get downtown via taxi.

 

By Road/ River

To/ From Suriname

The ferry service between Guyana (Molson Creek – Corentyne) and Suriname (South Drain) is operated by the Canawaima Ferry Company.

Services are either once a day or twice a day in each direction, depending on season. There is usually a ferry from Guyana at 1pm.

South Drain is located 32km south of Nieuw Nickerie on a fast paved road.

On either side you will find taxis and shared buses to transport you to Georgetown (3 hours), Paramaribo (5 hours) or Nieuw Nickerie (30mins). Roads are paved and in excellent condition on both sides, although the driving is erratic and risky.

Most nationalities require either a tourist card or a visa for Suriname – check your requirements prior to arrival.

To/ From Brazil

The border between Brazil and Guyana is the bridge over the Takutu river between the Brazilian town of Bonfim and the Guyanese town of Lethem. The bridge includes a neat lane-changing design to get you from the left side of the road onto the right side.

Formalities are conducted on the respective sides of the river. There are local taxis, which will ferry you between the two posts.

On the Brazilian side you have shared taxis that will take you to the city of Boa Vista.

On the Guyanese side you have micro buses that will transport you to Georgetown (20 hours) to to points in the Iwokrama Forest (6 hours).

Note: Do not cross the border into Brazil with Guyanese dollars. They are impossible to change.

Some nationalities require visas for Brazil – check your visa requirements prior to arrival.

 

Getting Around

There are frequent mini buses connecting all of the main centres in Guyana. Most buses from Georgetown commence their journey on the crowded, chaotic streets outside Stabroek market.

All taxis are registered under the term “Hackney Carriage” and carry the letter H at the beginning of their number plates. You can flag these in the street.

 

About taste2travel.com

Other blogs from the region – Suriname Travel GuideFrench Guiana Travel GuideCayenne Carnival